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Florida Footbridge Accident Raises Questions of Liability

By The Husband and Wife Law Team on April 2, 2018

On March 15th, a pedestrian bridge collapsed in Miami, Florida, killing at least six people just five days after it was swung into place. Since it happened so recently, we still don’t know much about why the incident occurred or who’s to blame. But one thing is certain: this is a case that isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, several lawsuits have already been filed by families and friends of the victims.

Details of the Collapse

The bridge was constructed at Florida International University, just above the busy Tamiami Trail used by motorists. The bridge was designed as a safe way for students to cross this busy area of the city. Video footage of the wreckage shows a number of cars stopped underneath the bridge before it suddenly collapsed.

Some people were crushed in their cars, and reports say that at least eight cars were crushed under the weight of the concrete. Workers on the bridge undoubtedly suffered injuries as well when the bridge came down.

Miami police initially stated that at least six people had been killed in the accident, although it will be some time before they’re entirely sure how many people were affected.

The bridge was a collaboration between Munilla Construction Management, based in Miami, and FIGG Bridge Engineers, based in Tallahassee. The bridge was cable-supported and was known as an instant bridge, a type of bridge that is constructed very quickly. The bridge had only been in place for a few days before it collapsed.

Possible Safety Issues

While the details are still not entirely clear, early evidence shows that there may have been some safety issues with the bridge.

Maurice Kemp, the deputy mayor who oversees the police and fire departments, said that stress tests had been performed on the bridge but that they were “very preliminary.” Kemp also stated that he had spoken to workers about the tension lines and how they may have needed adjusting. Some reports said that the workers were adjusting the tension lines on the bridge at the time of the collapse.

It was revealed after the accident that an engineer working for one of the companies that created the bridge left a voicemail for the Florida Department of Transportation. In that voicemail, the engineer stated that there were cracks on the north end of the bridge. While the engineer did say that it wasn’t necessarily unsafe, it was something that had to be fixed. That voicemail was left on Tuesday, two days before the collapse.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has issued a statement indicating that if anyone is found liable for this tragedy, they will certainly be held accountable. And it seems that there may be a number of parties responsible for the accident.

Liability in the Collapse

It’s unclear if criminal charges such as manslaughter will be pressed against any parties found liable for the accident. But there are many opportunities for personal injury cases to be filed by those injured, and by the loved ones of those killed in the accident. The question is, who will they file these personal injury cases against?

Already, the first lawsuit was filed by a bicyclist who was injured during the bridge collapse, and it holds FIGG Bridge Engineers and MCM to blame for the accident. Several other lawsuits have been filed by injured victims or families who lost their loved ones. It remains to be seen if FIGG and MCM will be found negligent. It could easily be argued that the companies shouldn’t have allowed any vehicles beneath the bridge while their workers were “stress testing” it.

For those working on the bridge at the time it collapsed, their cases may be a bit more complicated if they wish to seek compensation. If the incident happened in Arizona, they would have to file first under Arizona’s workers’ compensation laws. However, Arizona law also states that when an employer has forced employees to work in an unreasonably dangerous environment, the employee can file a personal injury claim against the employer.

Additionally, because the local government was informed when the engineer left a voicemail for the Florida Department of Transportation, questions arise as to government liability for the incident. Lawyers will need to identify whether this particular government entity has sovereign immunity, which means any lawsuit would be rendered null and void except in special circumstances.

It’s clear that for the victims and those who love them, the repercussions of this disaster will last for a long time. In a legal sense, those repercussions will also last for some time. While nothing has been determined conclusively yet, it’s clear that once the investigation is complete, those injured or killed in the accident may have several legal avenues to explore that may allow them to receive justice.

For more information about construction accident law or to speak with an Arizona lawyer about your own injury case, please call The Husband and Wife Law Team at (602) 457-6222 for a free consultation.

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